HOW TO GROW HERBS - Cooking & Medicinal


1. Preparations

2. Drying Herbs

3. Medical Terms

4. Further Reading & Links

Herbs are so important that they are essential for anyone contemplating growing food sustainably. They are vital for practical and aesthetic reasons, for use in the kitchen, for making herbal teas, for making plant sprays, as companion plants, for attracting bees and other beneficial insects and of course for medicinal purposes.

They are easy to grow. They can be grown in a special herb garden, in or at the edge of a forest garden, as edging, in vegetable plots, as part of your flowerbeds, in pots, or indoors on the kitchen windowsill.

Each herb will have its uses described as – Companions, Beneficial Insect Attractant, Culinary Uses & Medical Uses, as well as its cultivation and harvesting details.

As with my eclectic approach to the different forms of sustainable horticulture and agriculture, so is my eclectic approach to medicine. To reject conventional medicine completely in favour of alternate or traditional forms of medicine, or visa versa, seems to me ridiculous. Where there are shortcomings in one form of medicine, there are often others that will provide answers and practical remedies.

We use conventional medicine and medications. We also use traditional European herbal medicines and traditional Indian Ayurvedic herbs and medications, and a few traditional Rongoâ Mâori (traditional Mâori medicine) from native New Zealand plants.

Around the world over many thousands of years, local people have used herbs for medicinal uses, using millions of different valuable herbs and medicinal plants. I come from a European background, so those are the herbs I know best, but for those of you that live in other parts of the world, you will have to discover your local herbs and the associated traditional native medical practices of your area.

My knowledge of the whole subject of holistic medicines and herbs is not great, so I have included links and further reading at the end of this article that will help you to get a greater understanding of this valuable and important subject, as well as how to grow some of these valuable plants for you and your family’s use. If you want to delve into the subject in greater depth, you could take a course in Naturopathy, or a course on herbal medicine, or the traditional medicine of your area.


How to Prepare:

Herbal Tea: 1 heaped teaspoon per cup. Boiled water added and brewed for a few minutes, like ordinary tea.

Standard Brew: One large (man-size) handful of dried or well-chopped fresh herbs, to 2 cups of filtered water. Place in an enamel, stainless steel or earthenware pot with the cold water with the lid on and heat over a gentle heat until almost boiling. Keep the lid on over the heat for about 3 minutes, but without boiling. Then remove from the heat to brew for at least 3 hours, still with the lid on, but overnight is best.

Do not strain the herbs. Leave in the pot, or pour the unstrained liquid into jars. You can then pour the liquid off the top for use, as the herbs will settle at the bottom. The longer you leave them in the better. Tie a cotton cloth over the jars to admit air but not dust. Keep no longer than three days.



• 2-3 cups coconut oil

• 230-280 grams (8-10oz) dried herbs

• ¼ cup melted beeswax


1. To infuse the coconut oil, melt in a double boiler and add the elderflower leaves, turning off the heat.

2. Infuse the leaves for 4 hours until the oil has turned green, then reheat the oil in the double boiler and add the melted beeswax.

Oil: Pick flowers, and allow to wilt a bit to lose some moisture, place in a container and just cover with organic extra virgin olive oil. Infuse for two weeks then pour the oil through a sieve and bottle the oil.


Plants: Bunches can be cut and hung up in a warm cupboard at 20-300C (68-860F) in the dark to dry slowly. Once the bunch is crackling dry, rub off the leaves, or break up the whole bunch and store in dry sealed jars. Where the whole plant is to be used, hang up the plant with the roots attached until thoroughly dry.

Leaves: Ideally, dry leaves in the dark, in a warm, but not hot, airing cupboard at 20-30C (68-86F), or a shaded part of a glasshouse or conservatory. They should be laid out on nylon netting, or the cut out seat of an old pair of tights, spread over a wooden frame to allow the circulation of air. See also each herb for further or individual instructions.

Flowers: Drying flowers are more difficult as the flowers are more delicate. The instructions for drying leaves are similar, but flowers need drying with the utmost care, gently in the dark on trays as above, preferably where they will have fresh air flowing over them; a gentle fan can be used for this.

Roots: Thoroughly wash and scrub the soil off the roots, before drying. If the roots are thick and large, it is better to cut them into smaller pieces so they will dry easier. Also, the smaller pieces will be easier to boil or grind in preparing the roots. I have also stored fresh, washed roots in the freezer in Ziplock bags.


Medical terminology used to explain the action of the different herbs:

Alterative: Tending to restore normal health; cleanses and purifies the blood; alters existing nutritive and excretory processes gradually restoring normal bodily functions.

Anabolic: Constructive phase of metabolism; building up (repair and growth) of body substance.

Analgesic: Relieves pain.

Anthelmintic: Helps destroy and dispel parasites.

Anti-atherogenic: Counteracts the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries. Antibiotic: Inhibits growth or destroys micro-organisms. Anticholesterolaemic: Promotes a reduction of cholesterol levels in the blood.

Antidiabetic: Plants that have compounds that mimic insulin.

Antiemetic: Reduces nausea and prevents vomiting.

Antigenotoxic: Reverses the effects of chemical agents that damage the genetic information within a cell causing mutations, which may lead to cancer.

Antihypertensive: Reduce high blood pressure.

Anti-inflammatory: Reduces inflammation.

Antioxidant: Removes potentially damaging oxidizing agents from the body.

Antipyretic: Dispels heat, fire and fever.

Antioxidant: Neutralises free radicals and their destructive oxidising effects on the cells of the body.

Antiscorbutic: Having the effect of preventing or curing scurvy, because it is rich in vitamin C.

Antispasmodic: Relieves spasms of voluntary and involuntary muscles. Antitussive: An agent that suppresses coughing.

Anxiolytic: A medication that inhibits anxiety.

Aperient: A mild laxative.

Aphrodisiac: Reinvigorates the body by reinvigorating the sexual organs. Aromatic: Herbs, which contain volatile, essential oils, which aid digestion and relieve gas.

Astringent: Firms tissues and organs; reduces discharges and secretions. Bitter tonic: Bitter herbs which in small amounts stimulate digestion. Cardiotonic: Heart tonic that leads to increased contractility, increased contract strength and an increase in blood pumped from the heart. Carminative: Relieves intestinal gas, pain and distension; promotes peristalsis.

Cathartic: Strong laxative which causes rapid evacuation.

Demulcent: Sooths, protects and nurtures internal membranes. Deobstruent: Removes obstructions; having the power to clear or open the natural ducts of the fluids and secretions of the body.

Diaphoretic: Causes perspiration and increases elimination through the skin.

Depurative: Herbs that have purifying and detoxifying effects.

Diuretic: Promotes activity of kidney and bladder and increases urination. Emetic: Induces vomiting.

Emmenagogue: Helps promote and regulate menstruation.

Emollient: Soothes, softens and protects the skin.

Expectorant: Promotes discharge of phlegm and mucus from lungs and throat.

Febrifuge: Reduces fever.

Galactagogue: A food or drug that promotes or increases the flow of a mother's milk.

Haemostatic: Stops the flow of blood – a type of astringent that stops internal bleeding or haemorrhaging.

Immunostimulant: Stimulates and strengthens the immune system Laxative: Promotes bowel movements.

Lithotriptic: An agent that dissolves calluses.

Nervine: Strengthens functional activity of the nervous system.

Nephritic: An agent that reduces swelling and inflammation of the kidney. Nutritive tonic: Increases weight and density and nourishes the body. Pectoral: Relating to the breast or chest.

Prophylactic: Increases immunity and boosts the immune system. Refrigerant: Reduces body temperature and relieves thirst.

Rejuvenative: Prevents bodily decay, postpones aging, revitalizes the organs.

Resolvent: Promoting the resolution or the dissipation of a pathologic growth.

Rubefacient: A substance for topical application that produces redness of the skin e.g. by causing dilation of the capillaries and an increase in blood circulation.

Sedative: Calms or tranquilizes by lowering functional activity of organ or body part.

Stimulant: Increases internal heat; dispels internal chill and strengthens metabolism and circulation.

Stomachic: Strengthens stomach function.

Styptic: Capable of causing bleeding to stop when it is applied to a wound.

Trophorestorative: A nutritive restorative for an organ, by providing vital nourishment.

Vasodilator: Causes relaxation of the blood vessels.

Vermifuge: Kills parasites in the intestines.

Vulnerary: Assists in healing of wounds by stimulating cell growth and protecting against infection.